(Special Reference to North Bengal) Malay saha, research scholar,department of history North Bengal University
Adivasi is an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ethnic and tribal groups believed to be the aboriginal population of India. They comprise a substantial indigenous minority of the population of India.
Adivasi societies are particularly present in the Indian states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal (Special reference of North Bengal), Mizoram and other north-eastern states, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Many smaller tribal groups are quite sensitive to ecological degradation caused by modernization. Both commercial forestry and intensive agriculture have proved destructive to the forests that had endured Sweden agriculture for many centuries. Adivasi populations suffer disproportionately from India’s modernization. Many depends on India’s forests for their livelihood, and they have suffered from both the destruction of these forests as well as state efforts to preserve the forests which often fail to account for the populations that live within them. They are increasingly becoming migrant laborers, a process which tears at the social fabric of their communities. The condition of the Adivasi populations varies quite considerably from one state to the next. National law gives states considerable power over defining who count as a “Scheduled Tribe” and who does not. As a result, the same group might be considered a scheduled tribe in one state, but not in the neighbouring state.
In various parts of India Adivasis were incorporated into local states. In some cases they became the ruling families, in other the untouchable lower castes. Little is known about the relationship between the Adivasis and Non-adivasi communities during the Hindu and Muslim rules. There are stray references to wars and alliances between the Rajput kings and tribal Chieftains in middle India and in the North East between the Ahom kings of Brahmaputra Valley and the hill Nagas. They are considered to be the anti-sudra meaning lower than the untouchable castes. Even today, the upper caste people refer to these peoples as jungle a derogatory term meaning “those who are like wild animals” --- uncivilized or sub-humans.
In the Hindu caste system, the Adivasis have no place. The so called mainstream society of India has evolved as an agglomeration of thousands of small-scale social groups whose identities within the larger society are preserved by not allowing them to marry outside their social groups. The subjugated groups became castes forced to perform less desirable menial jobs like sweeping, cleaning of excreta, removal of dead bodies, leather works etc. the untouchables. Some of the earliest small scale societies dependent on hunting and gathering, and traditional agriculture seen to have remained outside this process of agglomeration. These are the Adivasis of present day. Their autonomous existence outside the mainstream led to the preservation of their socio-religious and cultural practices, most of them retaining also their distinctive languages, widow burning, enslavement, occupational differentiation, hierarchical social ordinary etc. are generally not there. Though there were trade between the Adivasis and mainstream society, any form of social intercourse was discouraged. Caste India did not consciously attempt to draw them into the orbit of caste society. But in the process of economic, cultural and ecological change, Adivasis have attached themselves to caste groups in a peripheral manner and the process of de-tribalization is a continuous one.
The situation and struggles of the Adivasi women in the Eastern, Central and Southern parts of India, the...